Ilfracombe grind out a derby victory against Barnstaple
ILFRACOMBE TOWN obeyed the golden rule of derbies – the result is the only thing that matters.
The Bluebirds battled for a 4-2 victory at Barnstaple Town in the Toolstation Western League on Tuesday night.
While Barum played the eye-catching football and scored two outstanding goals through Jed Harper-Penman and Matt Rickard, it was their neighbours who made the short journey home with the points.
Billy Tucker sparked Ilfracombe to life with a solo strike to equalise midway through the first half.
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And the winger scored again in the 91st minute, rounding off another damaging defeat for his former club in their fight against relegation.
Rookie Barnstaple boss Tom Bulley could only praise his players for a "fantastic" performance.
His opposite number, Ross Middleton, was in the thick of the action in midfield on a pitch bearing the scars of a long winter.
"This time of year, in our league, you can't worry too much about football," said Middleton. "Sometimes you have just got to grind it out."
The visitors did exactly that, responding with a strong second half after Barnstaple's energy had them worried in the first 45 minutes.
The last two meetings between the North Devon rivals at Mill Road had ended goalless but that never looked likely again after a positive opening spell.
Kick-off was delayed by 20 minutes as sand was spread in one of the soggy goalmouths but the pitch problems did not deter Barnstaple.
Ilfracombe were caught cold as Rickard tore down the left wing and cut the ball back for Connor Nash, whose effort had to be hacked off the line by James Mayne.
A swerving effort from Harper-Penman, tipped over by Steve Oliver, was just a warning of what was to come from the former Plymouth Argyle prospect.
On 21 minutes, Harper-Penman drifted in from the right and let fly with a shot that dipped beyond the stranded Oliver and into the top corner.
After two cracking goals against Brislington on Saturday, it was the third time in three days he had scored for Barnstaple from long range.
If Harper-Penman was Barnstaple's diminutive box of tricks on the wing, then Tucker was Ilfracombe's answer.
The equaliser arrived five minutes later when Tucker received a short corner from Shaun Lewis, drifted in from the touchline and whipped a shot beyond Adam Fuller.
In the heart of the home defence, Kriss Boreham and Harry Taffs were showing they are capable of making the step up from the North Devon League senior division, where they play for Fremington and Torrington respectively.
Barnstaple continued to look lively in the final third with Oliver forced to hold a low drive from Harper-Penman and tip over a header from Liam Dart.
As the home side faded in the early part of the second half, however, Combe began to show their greater physical strength.
The decisive breakthrough from Steve Holland proved slick football was possible despite the heavy pitch.
Lewis combined neatly with Lee Francis, and Holland, making a typical break from midfield, took a touch to compose himself before rolling a shot past Fuller.
"It was a great finish from Steve," said Middleton. "His workrate was phenomenal.
"All the pressure is on us when you play the team that's bottom of the league. You could just see the pressure lift."
Suddenly the team in blue were first to every ball and sensing there were more goals to be had.
In the previous game against Bishop Sutton, Middleton had enjoyed a managerial masterstroke when his substitute Shaun Copp scored within ten seconds of going on. This time Ryan Turner made the manager wait the best part of three minutes before finding the net.
Turner had just replaced Lewis up front when he reacted to score from close range after Fuller parried a header by Ed Yeo.
It seemed as though Barnstaple's challenge was over. But whatever the team lacked in experience, they could not be found wanting for spirit and endeavour.
When Kevin Darch clipped Cory Roach on the edge of the box in the 80th minute, it gave Rickard the opportunity to beat Oliver with a fine free kick.
The goal set up a frantic finish with substitute Luke Evans testing Oliver with a snapshot.
Ilfracombe could finally relax in stoppage time when a mazy run from Holland was ended by a foul from Fuller. Barnstaple argued their goalkeeper had played the ball but Tucker was not interested in the protests as he swept in the resulting penalty.
Meetings between the North Devon rivals are always passionate affairs and, for the sake of the fans and the finances, the two clubs will hope they can do battle again next season.
For that to happen, Barnstaple must claw back a nine-point gap to reach safety at the foot of the premier division.
With two wins from two tough games, Ilfracombe have made a positive start to 2013.